Read the forward from the 25th anniversary edition of Paulo Coelho’s international bestseller ‘The Alchemist’ to learn why the renowned author wrote the book and how he feels about its enduring popularity.
When The Alchemist was first published twenty-five years ago in my native Brazil, no one noticed. A bookseller in the northeast corner of the country told me that only one person purchased a copy the first week of its release. It took another six months for the bookseller to unload a second copy—and that was to the same person who bought the first! And who knows how long it took to sell the third. By the end of the year, it was clear to everyone that The Alchemist wasn’t working. My original publisher decided to cut me loose and cancelled our contract. They wiped their hands of the project and let me take the book with me. I was forty-one and desperate.
But I never lost faith in the book or ever wavered in my vision. Why? Because it was me in there, all of me, heart and soul. I was living my own metaphor. A man sets out on a journey, dreaming of a beautiful or magical place, in pursuit of some unknown treasure. At the end of his journey, the man realizes the treasure was with him the entire time. I was following my Personal Legend, and my treasure was my capacity to write. And I wanted to share this treasure with the world.
As I wrote in The Alchemist, when you want something, the whole universe conspires to help you. I started knocking on the doors of other publishers. One opened, and the publisher on the other side believed in me and my book and agreed to give The Alchemist a second chance. Slowly, through word of mouth, it finally started to sell—three thousand, then six thousand, ten thousand—book by book, gradually throughout the year.
Eight months later, an American visiting Brazil picked up a copy of The Alchemist in a local bookstore. He wanted to translate the book and help me find a publisher in the United States. HarperCollins agreed to bring it to an American audience, publishing it with great fanfare: ads in the New York Times and influential news magazines, radio and television interviews. But it still took some time to sell, slowly finding its audience in the United States by word of mouth, just as it did in Brazil. And then one day, Bill Clinton was photographed leaving the White House with a copy. Then Madonna raved about the book to Vanity Fair, and people from different walks of life—from Rush Limbaugh and Will Smith to college students and soccer moms—were suddenly talking about it.
The Alchemist became a spontaneous—and organic—phenomenon. The book hit the New York Times bestseller list, an important milestone for any author, and stayed there for more than three hundred weeks. It has since been translated into more than eighty different languages, the most translated book by any living author, and is widely considered one of the ten best books of the twentieth century.
People continue to ask me if I knew The Alchemist would be such a huge success. The answer is no. I had no idea. How could I? When I sat down to write The Alchemist, all I knew is that I wanted to write about my soul. I wanted to write about my quest to find my treasure. I wanted to follow the omens, because I knew even then that the omens are the language of God.
Though The Alchemist is now celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, it is no relic of the past. The book is still very much alive. Like my heart and like my soul, it continues to live every day, because my heart and soul are in it. And my heart and soul is your heart and soul. I am Santiago the shepherd boy in search of my treasure, just as you are Santiago the shepherd boy in search of your own. The story of one person is the story of everyone, and one man’s quest is the quest of all of humanity, which is why I believe The Alchemist continues all these years later to resonate with people from different cultures all around the world, touching them emotionally and spiritually, equally, without prejudice.
I re-read The Alchemist regularly and every time I do I experience the same sensations I felt when I wrote it. And here is what I feel. I feel happiness, because it is all of me, and all of you simultaneously. I feel happiness, too, because I know I can never be alone. Wherever I go, people understand me. They understand my soul.
This continues to give me hope. When I read about clashes around the world—political clashes, economic clashes, cultural clashes—I am reminded that it is within our power to build a bridge to be crossed. Even if my neighbor doesn’t understand my religion or understand my politics, he can understand my story. If he can understand my story, then he’s never too far from me. It is always within my power to build a bridge. There is always a chance for reconciliation, a chance that one day he and I will sit around a table together and put an end to our history of clashes. And on this day, he will tell me his story and I will tell him mine.
This excerpt from THE ALCHEMIST 25th Anniversary Edition by Paulo Coelho is reprinted with permission from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, English copyright 1993, Foreword copyright 2014.